Black Widow: An Uneven Conspiracy Thriller
Black Widow Does Not Really Stick The Landing
The funny thing about Black Widow is if I’d seen it even ten years ago, it would’ve blown my mind. The things in this movie, both individual moments and theming, would’ve been something unique for superhero cinema. Now, it’s just a Marvel installment. And, if we’re grading on a curve, it’s only mid-tier. And that’s almost entirely because of its disjointed nature.
Black Widow is more like two films combined, with the seams coming linearly. The first section is a moody spy thriller that put me in mind of The Bourne Identity or Mission: Impossible. The opening car/plane chase is tense, visually amazing, and violent. You really do get a sense of people living in secret and on the edge of danger. This mood also persists past the time skip. Seeing a more down-to-earth version of Natasha and the brutality of trained killers makes for a somber exploration of the seedy and morally reprehensible side of Marvel’s usual bombastic camp. There’s a reason Captain America and Black Widow often show up in the same movies. It’s because both characters thematically revolve around a sense of “realism” and political intrigue.
When The Movie Goes Full Thriller It Really Works
But then, after a deliriously fun prison escape scene, we sloppily skid into a film that wants to be fun and comedic but feels much more generic because of that choice. I get that we’re supposed to empathize with Black Widow, and she’s grown from her cynical origins, but now she’s too cheery and enthusiastic. In fight scenes, she also seems to be the least capable compared to her teammates. By the end, I was almost annoyed with her quips and clever turnarounds, rather than being in the story. Her whole shtick is making people drop their guard, but the big scene of it is a far cry from the grounded version of a similar moment in Avengers. Scarlett Johansson is doing the best she can with the material, but there’s some issue in the writing.
Black Widow Is The Boring Part Of Black Widow
What’s funny, though, is that the film didn’t need her to be a comedic character. We get two others, and they’re both built from the ground up to be that way. So, you know, it actually works. I’m speaking of Alexei (David Harbour) and Yelena (Florence Pugh), who brings such a different vibe of comedy to Marvel I just want them to show up as often as possible. Yelena’s story of finally getting to be her own person and turning out to be sarcastic and mildly genre-savvy puts me in mind of a grounded version of Deadpool. And then we’ve got Alexei, whose ego and utter failure to read the room makes for a lot of fun scenes. It’s an absolute shame he and Captain America don’t get a dramatic face-off somewhere. When Alexei first showed up, I wasn’t sure if I wanted there to be any superpowered characters in Black Widow—but he won me over quickly. Watching him bulldoze through people was quite a bit of fun. It might’ve been better for him to get one more scene where he’s shown to be powerful or capable or even competent, but the character’s still around, so we’ll likely see him again.
The Red Guardian Is Criminally Underused Here
You may have noticed that I’ve almost entirely talked about the characters and the mood and not much about the plot. This is because the plot isn’t much to talk about. It’s interesting in a lore sense, and the implications are certainly rich with dramatic potential—but they’re not explored to any degree of satisfaction. We’re told about massive conspiracies, but it feels like a set-up for a show that hasn’t been announced. Even when we’re deep in the thick of science fiction espionage and villainous monologues it feels flat. Sure, as the ending scenes roll along, we have moments of utter bombast and visual splendor, but the non-main-character Black Widows get maybe two lines of dialogue? The resolution of plot lines has multiple jump-the-shark levels of techno and chemical tomfoolery. It feels like something that would happen in a comic book, but I don’t mean that in a good way. It really is two distinct films of different quality.
Now, normally, this would be the part where I’d recommend whether you should bother with Black Widow. But this is Marvel. And this is an extremely plot-relevant Marvel movie. To keep up with the universe’s machinations and underlying story architecture for future installments (especially if you haven’t seen Hawkeye), then you at least need a recap of this movie’s developments. And, if you’re willing to go that far, you may as well just watch Black Widow. There are enough exploding cars, helicopter stunts, and people kicking other people with extreme force to satisfy any action movie fan. If that’s what you like, if you’re in it for escapism, then Black Widow offers it in spades.
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